Kenya: My take from the First Ever Presidential Debate – Alex Njeru


Kenya witnessed the biggest ever cross-media event in its recent history, the 2013 Presidential debate that was screened, broadcast on radio or streamed live from the Brook-House International School. It was a first in Kenya’s media and political history, a moment to savour and reflect as six men and one woman hoping to become Kenya’s top gong went head to head in a single moderated caucus. The drum-up to the event was colossal, international media outlets were drooling over what was sub-Sahara Africa’s most recognizable leap to democracy and political tolerance. The men; Uhuru Kenyatta, of the Jubilee Coalition, Raila Odinga of the CORD alliance, Musalia Mudavadi of the Amani coalition, Paul Muite of the Safina party which literary means Noah’s ark in Swahili, Prof Ole Kiyapi of the Rebuild Kenya party, the notoriously funny Abduba Dida of ARC party and mademoiselle Martha Karua of Narc Kenya party synonymously referred to as the flower party.

It has to be noted that of all the aforementioned political personalities only Monsieurs; Paul Muite and Abduba Dida lack considerable experience in the executive arm of government. Odinga is Kenya’s outgoing Prime Minister, with Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyatta being his able deputies. Miss Karua is a former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. That the presidential contenders thought the debate an unnecessary interruption to their otherwise tight campaign schedule is discernible from the fact that only three of the seven contenders attended the debate’s dress rehearsal.

Some of the candidates like Uhuru Kenyatta had serious reservations about attending the debate only confirming his participation at the last minute. For good measure Uhuru Kenyatta had a justified sense of trepidation for he knew that he would be put in a box for his ‘alleged role’ in the 2007 post election violence, a matter of which is part of charges leveled against him at the International Criminal Court at the Hague-Netherlands.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Kenyans were glued to their television screens to witness the superfluity of issues under discussion. That was not the case for most Kenyans though as most of them were glued to the screens to see how their ethnic chiefs; of which Mr. Uhuru and Mr. Odinga are the biggest, fared against each other. From the onset things like issues were relegated to the periphery. Although there were seven debaters the most prominent daggers drawn were by Uhuru and Raila against each other. For the common parlance saying that there are only two horses in the race to state house with the other horses being pretenders to the title.

Here’s an adapted transcript of what happened;

Paul Muite, the fiery Nairobi lawyer and a hero of Kenya’s second liberation came out guns blazing. That Muite and Abduba Dida were not slated to appear on this debate until the former obtained a court order to bar the debate from going forward until they were included in the debate. Muite approached the debate in the belligerent tone and manner characteristic of those of the legal profession. He took issue with Kenya’s ‘soft foreign policy’ and declared in no uncertain terms that he would deploy the navy to recapture the disputed Migingo islands in the Lake Victoria that have been under Uganda’s administration For quite a while.

Mr. Kenyatta was suave, his years of education at top notch schools in the country finally paid-off. He detailed how he was going to turn the Kenyan economy into a knowledge and modern economy. Kenyans and the other political contenders had reservations with him, that he seeks to be president and did not escape scrutiny. At one point in time Raila Odinga accused him of wanting to run the Kenyan government from The Hague via Skype. That he owns huge tracts of land bequeathed and passed on from his father did not escape scrutiny.

Mr. Raila on the other hand acquiesced for the first time that he was a social democrat. This in part explains the apprehension that the business community in Kenya harbors with his expected presidency. He too came under attack for his role in the 2007 post election violence although he is not facing charges against humanity at The Hague. Mr. Muite was very categorical that Raila was equally culpable and bore command and political responsibility of the anarchy that ensued after the 2007 elections, saying ‘ you cannot convince my mind and that of any rational Kenyan that Raila and President Kibaki were oblivious of the goings on that were the post election violence.’

The other contenders made good accounts of themselves, that the likes of Mite, Dida and Peter Kenneth can be referred to as politically chaste. We do not value chastity though and that’s why these able gentlemen here have insurmountable odds for any of them to become Kenya’s president.

We are now waiting for the sequel, of the presidential debate which will happen about a fortnight from now. We are eager, not because we will glean something new about our next president, for the drama, the comedy and the side-shows we await with abated breath.

The Presidential debate through the eyes of Alex Njeru